As Afghanistan prepares for elections, there are fears a spike in violence might derail the electoral process. But UNAMA chief Jan Kubis tells DW the success of the vote is crucial for the country's political transition.
After more than 12 years of conflict, Afghanistan faces a pivotal year as international troops prepare to leave the country by the end of 2014. With prospects of a full NATO troop withdrawal, there are growing concerns the country might slide back into anarchy, particularly as the Taliban have stepped up their attacks over the past few weeks.
Against this background, the country is set to hold presidential elections on April 5. The vote will mark the first democratic transfer of power in the South Asian nation's history, as President Hamid Karzai is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term after ruling the country since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.
In a DW interview, Jan Kubis, the head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), says the polls will not only be of critical significance in terms of reinforcing Afghanistan's institutional and political stability, but also in the Taliban's own interest.
DW: Which major factors will shape Afghanistan's near future?
Jan Kubis: Afghanistan has already come a long way in the journey it started 12 years ago. There has been remarkable progress and positive momentum, but I emphasize that the gains are fragile.
The success of the elections on April 5 will be of critical significance in terms of reinforcing the country's institutional and political stability and instilling confidence in the future. Afghanistan's ultimate self-reliance demands increased attention to broad-based, inclusive and sustainable economic development, especially in terms of poverty reduction coupled with job creation.
Kubis says Afghanistan has made remarkable progress over the past years, but that these gains are fragile
Part of this includes the willingness to tackle the illicit economy and move towards a more regular economy in which the private sector can complement the aid efforts of the international community.
What role do you see the Taliban playing?
I was bitterly disappointed by the Taliban's recent announcement that it will be targeting the electoral process and participants, especially as the statements have been followed by lethal attacks. Whatever the group thinks of these polls, the vote is a civilian process and targeting it is contrary to international humanitarian law and undermines claims to political legitimacy.
These elections are in the Taliban's own interest as they provide Afghanistan with a mandated leadership and a fresh set of interlocutors to move forward with the broader reconciliation process.
While a breakthrough in direct peace talks - in a process that must be between Afghans - remains elusive in the short-term, efforts to build an environment conducive to negotiations must continue. In the long-run, the war is unsustainable and peace is a necessity.
Fearing a deterioration of the situation in the years to come, the United States has been trying to secure a long-term bilateral security agreement with the Afghan government that would allow it to keep up to a 10,000-strong residual force in the country. How important is the signing of this pact for Afghanistan's future?
The Bilateral Security Agreement is part of the strategic agreement already signed between Afghanistan and USA and a matter between the two countries.
However, I would note that the Loya Jirga's endorsement last year of the need for finalization of the agreement reflects that Afghans understand why support from the international community must continue over the coming years. Continued delay has added a layer of unpredictability, but I remain confident of mutually satisfactory outcomes.
Would a residual troop of up to 10,000 soldiers be enough to contribute to the stability of the country?
This may be better asked of military specialists, but what I can say is that while there are challenges, the security transition in Afghanistan is proceeding as planned. Local security forces took over responsibility last June and the Afghan army and police are stepping up to the challenge.
Some doomsayers predicted a collapse in the security institutions which has simply not occurred. But continued foreign troop presence in the country would be an indication of the international community's commitment to assist Afghanistan in the medium-term - a powerful confidence measure.
To which extent will the international community support the Afghan government and civil society post 2014?
Firstly, the United Nations has been working in Afghanistan, in one form or another, for several decades. This is a long-term commitment which can be relied upon as long as Afghans want the UN in their country.
As for the broader international community, I think its commitment to a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan can be seen in the fact that the level of international assistance remains truly exceptional, while also dependent on a successful political transition and demonstrable progress in the national government's commitment to governance, reforms, economic sustainability and a rights' based agenda.
The Tokyo framework remains the agreed instrument of civilian development assistance. Together with the pledges made at NATO's Chicago Summit in May 2012, it forms the cornerstone of international engagement in Afghanistan by ensuring continuity of commitment in the coming years.
What could the international community have done differently to improve the situation in the conflict-ridden country?
Pointing fingers at this stage will lead us nowhere. We, the international community, and the Afghan government, have our lessons to learn from the last 12 years. It is time to focus on the future that Afghans deserve after decades of conflict.
The United Nations and the wider international community recognize the need for greater coherence in their efforts to support Afghanistan. Within the United Nations family, I am working to improve consistency of focus, unity of efforts and to leverage the expertise of various agencies for a better coordination of national priorities and regional initiatives for the support of Afghanistan.
Jan Kubis is the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan and chief of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).
The interview was conducted by Gabriel Domínguez.